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Is the Porn Blackmail Scam Real?

by on April 22, 2020
in Computer Safety & Support, News, Computers and Software, Blog :: 677 comments

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What would you do if you received an email from someone claiming to have hacked your computer and recorded you via your webcam while you were engaged in watching porn, then threatening to send the video to everyone in your email and social media contact lists if you don’t pay a $260 ransom? Would you pay the ransom? Even if you’ve never viewed porn, what if they made the same threat to reveal the private details of all your emails?

This is exactly the situation some of our readers found themselves in recently, and they contacted us for help on how to proceed.

Here is an example of one the emails [grammatical errors left intact]:

Good Morning my friend. I represent the group of web criminals in Iran. I use this mail address because we think that you will check it. Few times ago my team put the virus on web-site with porn and as far as you clicked on a play button your system started shooting your screen and activating camera to capture you self-abusing. Eventually I mean you understand what compromising evidence Ive earned. Moreover, this software made your device act as dedicated server with plenty of functions like keylogger, parser etc. To sum up, my software picked all data, especially all your contacts from messengers, e-mails, social networks. If you wanna make me silent you must make a transaction of 260 dollars with bitcoin. 1K2auXQEKz7Ro8cRa2xr3bAPV2n6KT5vi1 You must use it as usual credit card number. If you send bitcoins nobody will see your shame. Watch youtube manuals about methods of buing BTC... I can offer you this exchanger: localbitoins.com.  If you have a problem with this, you can search comfortable ATM for bitcoin at coin atm radar. I give you no more than twenty four hours since you read our message to pay. You can complain cops, but they can not find us I use bot network, and of course we live abroad. If you want us to show proofs we will share it to seven mates from your data after that you will be given their contacts. So you will ask them if something strange was received about you. For some questions just reply. Dont be fullish, AmAZinGcRackeR$.

Scary, right? And there have been instances where victims’ computers were hacked, they were filmed in various states of undress (or worse) and then blackmailed that may make this threat seem all too real. But there are several indications that this is nothing more than a phishing scam, hoping to rope in active porn watchers with false threats (an easy demographic to target via mass email given that the world’s largest porn site, Pornhub.com, gets 75 million visitors PER DAY).

First, there is nothing in the email that demonstrates they know anything personally about you: it’s not addressed to you by name and there’s no detail about what site you supposedly visited and when. Nor did they supply a screenshot of the “self-abusing” they allege to have captured. In fact, they are explicitly discouraging you from asking for proof, by threatening to share said “proofs” with your “mates” if you ask. That is completely contrary to how we would expect a real hacker/blackmailer to act – if I wanted to scare the bejesus out of you to get you to pay, the first thing I would do is show you a compromising screen capture to prove that this is very, very real.

Another red flag is that when our readers ran scans using antimalware tools, no malware was detected. Antimalware tools aren’t perfect, but the better ones should have picked up the type of remote administration tool (RAT) described in the email.

Searching the web, there are reports of people receiving similar email scams, going back at least to last fall. The wording of the email varies, including where the scammers claim they’re from, the nature of their threat and the amount of money being demanded. Some people are falling for them, but fortunately not many. I researched a selection of the bitcoin accounts used in these scams and none of the emails had duped more than a handful of victims.

Unfortunately, these scams will likely continue and morph into new threats as the ubiquity of bitcoin makes it easier for scammers to hide behind these accounts and for victims to pay. In fact, while this article was originally written in March of 2018, Sophos security recently released a new study, based on millions of porn blackmail emails that were sent between September 2019 and March 2020, demonstrating this to be the case. During that period, sextortion emails made up 4.23% of all spam observed by Sophos. The study also showed scammers are using new methods for obfuscating email content to evade spam filters, enabling them to collect nearly a half million dollars in payments from victims during the same period. Fortunately, despite some payouts, potential victims seem to be becoming wise to the scam, as only half a percent of the Bitcoin addresses used in the spam messages received any payment, according to Sophos.

So, if you get one of these emails, should you pay the ransom before all your friends find out what you’ve been up to?

The answer is no, don’t be “fullish”.

[EDITOR'S NOTE REGARDING PASSWORD APPEARING IN THE EMAIL SCAM 7/12/18: A number of people have posted in the comments that they received a version of the email which includes a real password they've used in the past. Does this mean that they should be concerned? The answer is No and Yes. No, you shouldn't be concerned that your computer was hacked and you were actually filmed watching porn - it's still a scam. But, yes, you should be concerned that your password has been leaked through a data breach. Security researcher Troy Hunt has uncovered more than 500 million passwords leaked through these breaches. That password in the email was likely one of them. 

If it is still an active password for you, the scam email should be a big wake up call that you need to ensure you are using unique and secure passwords for every one of your accounts. We strongly recommend a password manager like Dashlane or 1Password , which will automatically check your passwords to see if they have been revealed in a breach and help you create unique, secure ones for every site.]

[EDITOR'S NOTE WARNING ABOUT ATTACHMENTS 7/20/18: One reader reported receiving an attachment titled "Invoice" with the porn scam email. If you get an attachment, DO NOT OPEN IT. Email attachments are one of the primary ways hackers use to install malware on your computer, which could turn this fake malware scam into a very real one.]

[EDITOR'S NOTE ABOUT EMAIL SPOOFING 10/19/18: Many readers are commenting that the porn blackmail email appears to be sent from their own email address, causing added concern the hacking claims may be real. But don't be fooled. Email spoofing has been around for a long time and is relatively easy to do. Usually the message headers will reveal the true sending email address. Here's how to tell if an email has been spoofed.]

[EDITOR'S NOTE ABOUT WORK VS PERSONAL EMAILS 1/21/19: A number of people are expressing concern in the comments that the blackmail email is coming to their work email, instead of their personal email (or both). It doesn't matter — an email address is a email address as far as this scam goes. Billions of emails have been leaked over the years, many of those from business-focused services such as Dropbox, LinkedIn and Adobe. If I check to see which of my email addresses have been involved in breaches, my work email has been breached many more times than my personal email.

Originally published 3/12/18. Updated 4/22/2020 with new data from Sophos

[Image credit: Man in a dark room at a computer via BigStockPhoto]



Discussion loading

Here’s one I received today

From Dan on April 16, 2021 :: 4:36 pm

Your device was infected with my malware.
Read the notification completely, otherwise the effect is going to be irreversible.
It’s possible to reason about ur home passion for years, but I will not waste your precious time, since u will need it.
I filmed ur onanism using ur camera, and I also copied all the contacts of ur family from your electronic-mail.
Now I have got a very intriguing compromising information u are in.
My requirements are straightforward, they are pay for the time I wasted for you.
I do not care about what humans do during their time off.
There are forty-eight h from the time of opening this msg (I will see this) in order to tackle the monetary issue.
After meeting my requisitions, I will get rid of ur horrible tape and u’re never going to hear of me again.
If u flout me, within 96 hours I’m gonna share this video tape with your relatives and post it on the Internet.
Recommendation for the future, don’t access questionable web-sites in order to avoid ur device infection.
Do not write me and do not attempt to beseech me, the mail is hacked and after sending the message it will be deleted on security grounds.

Reply

Scam email and voicemail

From Dhjejebdd on July 15, 2021 :: 2:53 pm

I got the same kind of emails but now they’re starting to call me. Should I be worried

Reply

What are they saying when they call?

From Josh Kirschner on July 21, 2021 :: 6:20 pm

I’ve never heard of a follow up call with these scams, because that takes a lot more time and effort. Nonetheless, I would assume it is the exact same scam unless they send you proof. And your best course of action either way is just to hangup and ignore them.

Reply

Please tell me this is a scam

From TBH - a bit concerned on July 31, 2021 :: 10:10 am

I received an email out of the blue.
My real name is in the title.
Compliments my abilities to masturbate for quite a length of time.
Threatens to send a clip of me they got from my computer camera to the contacts it has copied from my email.
They identify they are seeking financial payment but don’t identify how much in the body of the email, but there is an attachment.
I have 48 hours to make payment or the video will be distributed in 72 hours.
They have not provided any proof they have a clip

Reply

newer version

From b on August 04, 2021 :: 6:48 pm

Recieved a new version, but highly similar. Included a text file attachment with my name, but obviously haven’t opened to see what it is

Greetings (first name). I’ve never realized the reason for wanking, to my mind this’s a poor thing contrary to the belief. Huh it is not for me to convict human beings of their predilection. I’m not talking and I will get straight to the point. I have shot on video wanking via ur device and its web camera and now I have an entertaining and compromising clip in relation to you. Do you wonder raise the question how did this happen? My program infected ur device, except ur camera activation I as well accessed to ur mail enquiries and to ur social networks. Now I do have the opportunity to share the mind blowing video tape with your co-workers, mates and closest people or simply distribute your clip on the net. My opening and closing offer to preserve ur public image in front of ur relatives – make payment to me for the job activity I carried out. I don’t care how you pass ur time off I get profit is hunting humans with such a love for play with yourself, that’s why I wanna win an award for my job. Forty-eight h remained from the moment of opening the message for the transfer, if u defy these requirements, I am gonna distribute your clip on the web and present it to your buds and relatives converting your existence into a fuckin tumultuous dream! This will occur within ninety six hours. I hope it’s all clear from what I have told? Apologize me for my English. Don’t attempt to contact me, your pleadings will not be heard, this mail is hacked and soon there will be no access to it.

Reply

Can confirm it's a scam

From OpsSec on August 04, 2021 :: 11:09 pm

Yeah I got a very similar email (they just switched some words around) after some digging I figured out it’s a scam coming from breached AOL emails, I’m on the hunt to find where this new version is originating from but it looks like it can be convincing to people who get scared of their names being shown in the email, relax this is just a large scale spam.

Reply

Weird email helppp!!

From Anonymous on August 06, 2021 :: 12:44 am

I got this email today and even reading these comments and the article. I’m interested to know what you think since they used my name… Hello (my name) Ruthless sex offender of your hand. You are a real monster of wanking, if ur hand were able to escape from you, it would have certainly done this already. Now you read over the msg and have no idea what is happening, but it’s really simple. I have got ur personally owned video with your sexual stimulation which I can present to your loved ones and upload it on the Internet. Accessing sites for grown-ups, you must not be astonished at a spectator who infected your device and switched on your web camera, and has accessed to your contacts and social networks. You effect payment to me, and in return I will destroy your sad video tape and leave you in peace. BTC 1s3xaVnSggGeduY8WeHF6vuejLgGpYeiy, fair price 1199 usd. Otherwise, I’ll be made to present it to the entire world. Forty eight hours is a fair time for resolving the monetary question. Don’t write to me, this address is gonna be deleted on security grounds. Remember, forty eight h as soon as u read the message, I’ll see this.

Reply

The video was taken

From fold on September 13, 2021 :: 1:09 pm

I was masturbating with a person who introduced himself as a girl, but he was a boy. After masturbating, he asked me for bitcoin. It has been a year since that day. I searched but I did not find anything. Please pray for me. I am very scared

Reply

These scams have been around for a while, as well

From Josh Kirschner on September 13, 2021 :: 1:32 pm

Unfortunately, these types of impersonation scams have been going around for a long time, as well. In the past, first contact was often made through fake Facebook profiles.

If you’re a victim of one of these scams, the best advice is to not pay the money. It’s unlikely they would ever post the videos and if you do pay, there’s no assurance they won’t come back for more money later. You should also contact the FBI to report the extortion attempt, which you can do through the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center https://www.ic3.gov/.

Reply

Someone send me vibrators to my address

From Anna on October 11, 2021 :: 4:08 pm

Hello,
I’m worried because someone has sent me 8 vibrators to my address, with my name, University email…through a porn website called xhamster (a website that I’ve never heard off). I contacted the website and they confirmed they haven’t send anything. In addition, I went to the police office and they told me they couldn’t help me unless they do something physical to me. Please, can someone help me? I need to know if this has happened already to someone or how where they got all that information.
Thank you.

Reply

More information about where they were sent from?

From Josh Kirschner on October 11, 2021 :: 6:24 pm

Xhamster is one of the largest porn sites (and, actually, one of the largest sites in the world, based on traffic). But I don’t see anywhere they actually sell physical products, like vibrators (yes, I checked…). Are you sure that’s where they came from? If you can determine who the real shipper is, you may be able to uncover more information about who purchased them.

Beyond that, I’m not sure there is much more you can do if the police won’t get involved. Most likely this is someone who knows you at some level, as someone is spending money to buy those products. And that is likely how they have your address and other info.

Reply

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